December 4, 2008

Moby Dirt

Dirt Searching can be expensive. It only stands to reason that the best places to look for terroir, in those wines made from single-vineyards where producers intentionally restrict fruit yields and pick by hand, are going to be costly.

But in our quest for this muddy White Whale, we recently stumbled upon an interesting experimental pair that won't set you back a small fortune.

Two wines from Castoro Cellars. Yes, the provider of vast gallons of wine for Trader Joe's also has a serious side. These wines are from the same all-organic Whale Rock vineyard in Paso Robles. One a Zinfandel, the other a Primitivo. At the Lab, we know from super wine scientist Carol Meredith's extensive DNA analysis that Zin and Primitivo are, in fact, the same grape. So we assume this bit of marketing implies some deep cellar tomfoolery aimed at making a more rustic red for the Primitvo bottling.

Either way, same grapes, same vineyard, perhaps a slightly different vinification/maturation... perfect territory for a dirt search. So we tasted the 2005 Primitivo Reserve ($22) and the 2005 Whale Rock Zinfandel ($30) side by side.

The Zinfandel has a nose of cherry and oak, and, perhaps, too much alcohol. But I'm surprised by the restraint of the fruit on the palate, this isn't nearly as obvious as the nose suggested. A complex mix of black cherry, fig and blue fruits, with a youthful, vegetal greenness and drying tannins (or is this an oak effect?). The finish has a slightly bitter, Robitussin quality.

The Primitivo is sweet cherry and plum backed by dusty clay. This is the more fruit-forward of the two with rich flavors of plum and cherry confiture. Spicier too, with black pepper and espresso.

Both of these wines stuck me as being more about the fruit and the winemaking than the dirt. And yet, there was a common hallmark. Although it's hard to say if it's the result of shared varietal characteristics or born of common ground... literally.

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